Pruning your newly planted tree at the right time and in the right way can make the difference between having a tree which is badly mis-shaped with stunted growth or having a tree that stands tall and proud and is a pleasure to see and own.
HOW AND WHEN TO PRUNE
All branches should be left intact the first year after planting. Why? A newly planted tree needs as much leaf surface as it can get to aid in food manufacture while the tree is adjusting to its new home. The only time branches should be pruned during the first year after the tree has been transplanted is if the branch is broken or has been damaged by insects.
3-4 Years after Planting
Root growth should be well on its way to anchoring the new tree and expanding to the size necessary to nourish the growing branches. Root suckers and sprouts in the crown should be pruned. Other excessive branches should be thinned to reduce competition for light, water, and nutrients. A few of the lower limbs may also be removed. Branches which run or are growing in undesirable locations should also be removed at this time.
5-7 Years after Planting
Lower limbs should be pruned off to "raise" the bottom of the crown well out of the way of people's heads. The lowest limbs are now the permanent lowest limbs. Branches do not move upward as the tree grows taller. The center of a branch at five feet will always be at five feet. Branches protruding from the crown should be pruned to give the crown a graceful outline, and branches removed as necessary for even spacing.
15 Years after Planting.
Proper pruning will give strength to the branches over a period of years, aiding the tree's ability to withstand ice and wind storms. Dead and damaged limbs should be cut off each spring. With proper care through the years, the tree will become an asset to the property.
LACK OF PRUNING RESULTS IN STUNTED GROWTH AND UNATTRACTIVE SHAPING
Some newly planted trees often have branches which are awkwardly spaced or protrude at an unattractive angle. While the tree may not look its best, it is wise to avoid pruning the branches in order to leave the maximum possible leaf surface in order to manufacture food which will build a larger root system. Both the roots and the top of the tree will be larger after one year if the tree is left unpruned.
3-4 Years after Planting.
By the time the tree has been in its new home for two to four growing seasons, sprouts and suckers often appear. The root suckers protruding near the base of the tree have been sapping strength from the tree, thereby stunting its growth. They should have been removed. Your tree may also have sprouts which are disproportionately vigorous and weakly attached to the tree. The broken limb which has sprouted new branches of its own should have been pruned. The tree's unattractive shape will only grow worse with time.
5-6 Years after Planting.
The results of failure to prune regularly through the years for tree health and shape are quite apparent by the time the tree is five to seven years old. The form of the future crown is already being determined by the lack of pruning and shaping in the tree's earlier, formative years.
15 Years after Planting
The tree which should have been a source of pleasure and beauty is lopsided and dense. The narrow branch angles and multiple leaders have resulted in a weak top. The broken branch not only attracts insects but may break off under the weight of too many sprouts. Decay has entered the trunk where a bent branch tore off many years ago. The tree has become a liability instead of an asset to the property.
PRUNING FOR STRENGTH
Branch Sizes and Angles.
Narrow angles signal a point of future weakness, whether in the trunk or in the crown. As the two branches grow, neither has sufficient space to add the wood needed for strength. Instead, they grow against each other. The effect is similar to hammering in a wedge. To prevent this and the expensive problems which are sure to follow, simply remove one of the two branches. For strength, the ideal branching angle approximates ten or two o'clock.
Center of Gravity.
Young trees deformed by wind may be corrected by pruning. Move the tree's center of gravity to a point more central over the trunk by cutting back the leader and laterals on the downwind side (or direction of lean) to more upright branches.
Water sprouts and Suckers.
These "parasite" sprouts can occur at the base or inside the crown. They are rapidly growing, weakly attached, and upright. Usually they use more energy than they return to the tree. It is best to remove them as soon as possible when it is obvious they are vigorous sprouts.
Branches which rub result in wounds, decay, and notches. One of the offending branches should be removed.
Branches below the lowest permanent branch can protect young bark from injury from sun and add taper and strength to the trunk. Particularly in lawn plantings where lower limbs do not block passage or tempt vandals, the temporary branches may be left for three to four years after planting. Then remove the temporary limbs over the next two to three years, beginning with the larger temporaries. Don't let the temporary branches become large and vigorous.
The Village of Palatine has a comprehensive tree trimming program which assures that every parkway tree is trimmed once every five years. This regular pruning provides trees with structural strength and form and eliminates unhealthy branches.
Occasionally, the amount of branches requiring removal exceed the recommended maximum 1/3 of the total branches on the tree. Such major pruning is done only when circumstances require it and is usually the result of storm damage or disease. The extensive pruning is done in an attempt to save the tree.
If you have any questions about tree trimming, please contact the Village Forester at the Department of Public Works, 148 W. Illinois, Palatine, IL 60067. Our telephone number is 705-5200.